I met John Boggs in the summer of 2011 when I provided a plenary presentation at the School for Congregational Development, telling the story of the birth of New Day and the Epworth Project, 2 networks of missional communities in Dallas/Ft. Worth. John introduced himself to me afterward and we were soon deep in conversation about the movement of the Holy Spirit in the church today, calling forth new forms of missional community that are deeply rooted in the gospel and our own Wesleyan tradition. John was excited to learn about the New Day communities and the Epworth Project residences that the Missional Wisdom Foundation developed here in Texas. He was also happy to know about our foundation in contemplative prayer leading to missional action.
The following Spring I went to Asheville to speak to a gathering of clergy and laity who were interested in forming missional communities. We explored the biblical teaching that God is a missional God, our Wesleyan theological roots (Methodism started out as a movement of missional communities), and our current changing cultural contexts. During this visit my husband and I greatly enjoyed spending time with Haywood Street Church, at Central UMC, and with some of the dynamic young clergy in the area. It was clear to all of us that the Holy Spirit was birthing something powerful—new expressions of church in all sorts of interesting places.
Over the next 2 years the Missional Wisdom Foundation partnered with Blue Ridge District to bring 2 cohorts of clergy and laity through our Academy for Missional Wisdom, a 2 year training program that equips people to develop and lead diverse forms of missional communities. We also partnered with Central UMC and several dynamic missional ministries in and around Asheville to pilot a summer immersion program for seminarians from multiple schools, thanks to a generous grant from the Forum for Theological Exploration. The program includes classes for academic credit, missional engagement with local ministries, and a daily contemplative practice of prayer in community with faculty and students. In 2013 I was honored to be the teacher for the WNC Annual Conference, where there was an immense outpouring of desire among clergy and laity as well as among teenagers in the conference to engage in new ways of being the church in the world.
The Missional Wisdom Foundation continues to deepen our connection with the WNC, both in equipping people for missional community formation and leadership, and in developing the summer and fall immersion programs for college students and seminarians. We are companioning leaders in the Blue Ridge District as a network of missional communities is being established. In many ways WNC has become a second home for Randy and me, as our many trips to WNC have led to rich friendships and partnerships in ministry.
I am excited to see what will emerge in WNC in the years ahead. Make no mistake, a new awakening is underway,–God-breathed, Spirit led, Christ honoring. The Missional Wisdom Foundation is delighted to be able to share in the wonderful work that God is doing in WNC.
by Rev. Elaine A. Heath, Ph.D.